This practical “how to become a composer” guide offers helpful advice on developing your musical ear and skills, finding jobs and calculating a reasonable salary. You can also learn more about potential academic paths you can take and learn from a seasoned industry composer.
Hit a professional high note: Study our composer resume samples and general cover letter examples to learn how to describe your musical training. Many hiring professionals read cover letters to determine whether they’ll interview a candidate.
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What Does a Composer Do?
A composer writes and directs original musical compositions that can be used for several different purposes. The compositions can be used for theater, TV, radio, film, computer games and other areas where music is needed.
Some common composer duties and responsibilities include:
Create musical concepts based on imagination or sounds in the environment.
Study film scripts to define musical scores that can be used to create moods or atmospheres.
Use computers and synthesizers to compose, orchestrate, change and arrange music.
Collaborate with others to complete final scores.
Apply elements of music theory to create harmonies and melodies.
Determine voices, instruments, harmonic structures, rhythms, tempos and tone balances required to achieve desired effects in a musical composition.
Work with directors, producers, music supervisors, editors and musicians to ideate, compose and execute a score or original songs.
Ensure that the music complements the project.
The music composed may be instrumental or include lyrics.
Ensure music aligns with the narrative and emotional arc of the accompanying scenes.
How Do You Become a Composer?
Factors such as talent, luck and timing determine the success or failure of a fledgling composer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this career is facing an average job growth of 5% between 2021-2031, with estimated annual job opportunities of 5,800. Most composers are self-employed, set their hours and provide their own benefits.
To successfully score a musical career, here’s how to become a composer:
Learn how to read and write music.
The most important skill you can develop is reading and interpreting music accurately. You can establish these skills throughout middle and high school by joining musical clubs or classes like band, choir, orchestra, glee or drama/theater. Playing an instrument helps a composer express their compositions and also helps them identify and adjust arrangements during the editorial process.
Another effective way to learn how to interpret musical compositions' emotional power and narrative possibilities is to study existing media. Film, television, stage plays and video games rely on strategic musical beats to convey action or elicit an emotion. Learning how to interpret these audio cues can help you emulate them.
Pursue a creative art bachelor’s degree.
Many colleges and universities offer a variety of degrees in Music, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition, a Bachelor of Music in Music Composition or a Bachelor of Science in Music Composition. You can also consider a degree in industry-adjacent majors like film or video game production.
Offer pro-bono or discounted work.
A practical experience like creating compositions for student films and video games is an effective way to expand your formal training. Working with fellow students and classmates also gives you practical chances to work with recording, editing and sampling software.
Consider a postgraduate degree.
The post-graduate degree possibilities include a Master of Arts in Music Composition, a Master of Music in Music Composition and a Doctor of Philosophy in Music Composition. In most institutions, an audition is a requirement for those interested in pursuing these degrees. Several schools also ask students to perform their own compositions at a recital.
Apply for composer gigs.
A well-written resume will stand you in good stead when searching for a composer job opening. We compiled a list of effective composer resume samples to help you study and perfect your professional resume. You can also use an AI-based tool like our Resume Builder to craft a personalized document based on your education, composition experience and musical skills.
A good composer is creative, flexible, willing to experiment and collaborate and has musical talent. Composers are expected to know how to play at least one instrument and they should be able to carry a tune. A composer typically works at home or in a studio. Work hours may include nights and weekends to accommodate practices and rehearsals.
The following skill sets might benefit your regular work duties:
How Much Do Composers Get Paid?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics an estimated 82,100 people worked as music Directors or music Composers in May 2014. The median annual earnings for Composers and music Directors were $49,820 in that 2015. The lowest-paid Composers make about $10.13 per hour, while the highest-paid can earn more than $48.63. The bulleted list below will include Bureau of labor Statistics data for the top 10 states for median wage from highest to lowest.
Top 10 States for a Composer Salary
Composers and Music Directors in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.
Still need more information? We put together this list of additional resources to help you as you continue to explore a career as a Composer.
On the Web
The Composer’s Site
a site that lists composer competitions.
MENC: The National Association for Music Education
a website that addresses all aspects of music education.
National Association of Composers
a non-profit organization that promotes the performance of American concert hall music.
a sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them.
American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
an organization that helps with giving and obtaining permission to perform music.
Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
supports businesses, organizations that play music publicly as well as songwriters and composers by offering blanket music licenses.
The Triumph of Music: Composers, Musicians and their Audiences by Tim Blanning
provides a context for the way famous composers' music was received in their own time.
Instrumentation and Orchestration
An introduction to writing and scoring music for each instrument of the orchestra.
The Complete Guide to Film Scoring
exactly as the title states.